Second Stage Theatre's production of Paula Vogler's Pulitizer-Prize winning play, How I Learned To Drive ends its run on March 11, and it is a not-to-missed production.
Elizabeth Reaser (the Twilight movies, TV's Grey's Anatomy) plays Lil' Bit, at different stages of her life starting at age eleven. She is so good in this production, you actually believe you are watching an 11-year-old on stage. She is a revelation in this performance.
Norbert Leo Butz is her uncle Peck, who has an unnatural attachment to his young niece. He teaches Lil'Bit to drive and under that pretense to be alone with her, he woos her and charms her, and sexually abuses her. His portrayal is amazing; he is not outwardly the creepy uncle, someone you would avoid right away.
The subject is upsetting and you could feel the audience grow uncomfortable, but the play draws you into their world. Lil' Bit gives into Peck's requests to touch her inappropriately, and at times she seems to relish the power she has over him, but she is just a young girl and doesn't understand.
Butz shows Peck's careful grooming of his niece, patiently waiting until she is 18 to fully consummate their sexual relationship. But as Lil' Bit gets older, she becomes more aware of how wrong this relationship is. There is a scene when she is 11, and wants to ride with Uncle Peck to their vacation at the beach. Her mother warns her about Uncle Peck's unnatural attachment to her, yet relents and allows the her to ride with him. I wanted to shake the mother; she knew better than to let her daughter go.
These are two of the strongest performances I have seen in a long time. Butz keeps the audience unbalanced and on edge and when he finally explodes in anger, you believe you are seeing the unraveling of a pedophile. His performance is genius.
I've never seen Reaser on stage, but she is well matched to the veteran Butz. As Lil' Bit grows up, she realizes the true cost of her relationship with her uncle, and the conflict of this shows on her face. I hope to see more of her onstage soon.
While you may shy away from this play because of the unpleasant topic, it is well-written and the two main performances by Butz and Reaser are among the best I have ever seen. It deserves a chance to go to Broadway and bigger audience. This is a play I would pay full price to see.